USM on track to build arts center as fundraising reaches final phase

·4 min read

Sep. 21—The University of Southern Maine is launching the final public phase of the largest fundraising effort in its history to support scholarships, investments in school programs and construction of an almost $60 million arts center that it hopes to start building this spring.

While the quiet phase of fundraising already has brought in nearly $40 million from large donors and foundations, USM officials announced the final public phase of the $46 million Great University Campaign at an event Wednesday night.

The university started planning for the campaign in 2018, under then-President Glenn Cummings. Quiet fundraising began two years later in 2020. The school has raised $39.5 million, largely through significant gifts from individual donors and foundations, and is well on its way to reaching its goal of $46 million by June 2023.

Before launching this effort, USM's largest fundraising campaign was a $27 million campaign dubbed "Transforming USM" that ran from 2004-08 and paid for new facilities such as Hannaford Hall, the school's 500-seat auditorium. USM Foundation President Ainsley Wallace said this campaign builds on the one completed nearly 15 years ago.

In the Transforming USM campaign, people started to envision what having a vibrant university campus in Portland could look like, Wallace said. And now in the Great University Campaign, the school is "doing even more to strengthen the soul of the campus and amplify a place of excellence."

The lion's share of the money, $25 million, is slated to go toward building the news arts center, which is to be located on the school's Portland campus. USM's art center is currently located at its Gorham campus. The center still needs to be approved by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. Assuming the board allows the project to go forward, the center will include an art gallery, a visual arts teaching space and a performing arts center with a 210-person seating capacity, the school said. The rest of the money for the project, which is estimated to cost between $56 million and $59 million, is expected to come from other philanthropic gifts and university resources.

USM also plans to allocate significant funds: $5 million to complete its student career and success center, which is currently under construction, and according to the school's website will cost a total of $26.6 million; $5 million toward programs educating students in areas where the state has significant workforce needs such as nursing, teaching, insurance and risk management and STEM; and at least $11 million toward scholarships. The original goal of the fundraising initiative was to raise $11 million for new scholarships, but the school already has raised $13 million for that cause.

The money for scholarships will help the university grow the number of donor-funded scholarships it can award and increase the amount of money it can provide students, Wallace said.

Since 2015, the average undergraduate student debt burden has decreased from $28,800 to $24,000 per student upon graduation. Wallace said the scholarship money will help continue to bring that number down.

NEW PRESIDENT TAKING REINS

Although Cummings kicked off this undertaking, President Jacqueline Edmondson, who began her tenure with the school this summer, will lead the school in completing it.

"This is the largest fundraising campaign the university has ever undertaken," Edmondson said. "I'm excited to get it across the finish line."

Edmondson came to the University of Maine from the Penn State University System, where she was the chancellor and chief academic officer at Penn State Greater Allegheny, a small campus near Pittsburgh, from 2017 until she came to USM. Edmonson has a Ph.D. in education from Penn State and has worked in higher education for about 25 years.

Although around 4,500 people have donated already, over a third of the money given thus far came from two individual gifts. Maine philanthropist Suzi Osher gave $10 million specifically for the arts center. The Crewe Foundation, started by singer and songwriter Bob Crewe, who is known for hits such as "Big Girls Don't Cry," gave $6 million, also for the arts center. Crewe lived in Maine at the end of his life and the foundation is dedicated to supporting the arts and LGBTQ communities in the state.

The school went through an extensive process to decide what projects to fundraise for, Wallace said. Starting with the planning phase in 2018, the administration looked at all possible needs, then considered what donors would be willing to give money to and how donor appetite aligned with the school's long-term goals in order to decide where to allocate money.

Throughout the process, the administration has conferred with alumni, board members and others involved with the school. Wallace said the administration also has had extensive and repeated conversations with faculty department heads and expects that the campaign will have significant faculty support.